Secret retirement bonus plan

Friday - 11/30/2012, 2:00am EST

On his fourth and final voyage to the New World, Columbus brought a larger crew, several of his relatives and — according to some historians — the Triple Nickle, or 5-5-5, retirement-bonus plan.

The Triple Nickle rumor, like smallpox, spread quickly. Unlike smallpox, it is still with us in this country. It thrives in federal government offices. Middle-aged employees who are under the old Civil Service Retirement System are the most vulnerable.

The Triple Nickle has grown in value over the years. Originally the 5-5-5 was shorthand for a "secret" bill pending in Congress. The bogus report was that Congress was working on a plan to push feds out of government. According to the first rumors, feds would be offered a cash carrot of $5,000, would get an extra five years credited toward their government service and have five years added on to their age. Hence a much larger lifetime annuity, and a $5,000 bonus. Of course it didn't happen (mainly because there never was such a bill). But hope springs eternal.

There are variations to the Triple Nickle rumor and how it is spread. Sometimes it appears as a "news story" which is, of course, fake. Sometimes it is passed on as "secret" legislation with a bill number added to indicate it is working its way through the House or Senate. Again, not true.

Over the years, the rumor has been adjusted for inflation. Last year, for example, the Triple Nickle plan meant you would get a $50,000 payment, plus the extra age and service credit time.

For decades, the rumor was circulated by letter, telegram or telephone. Thanks to the Internet, email and texting, it can now go around the world in 80 seconds. And it continues to circulate. Like this email we got yesterday. It's from an IRS employee in Illinois. He wrote:

"Mike, there have been some rumors that there may be some type of buyout for employees under the old Civil Service Retirement System. Someone said they thought you had an article on it as well. But I haven't been able to find it. Can you shed some light on this? What I understand is that they might offer a $5,000 payment, along with adding 5 years to your (years of service) and age."
Many of us who cover the federal beat have written about the rumor. But always to debunk it. Nevertheless, some people recall reading about it (except not the part that it is bogus), and want more information. Because it makes sense to them. Or because they want it to be true.

Congress has lots of plans for federal workers, none of them good.

Most of the things it is talking about — from health-premium vouchers to reduced pension benefits — have been around before. Some have been kicking around for years. And while they are real, and therefore dangerous, nothing has happened even though many politicians would like to whack feds. So if you want something to worry about, check out the homepages of federal and postal unions to see what the potential threats are and where they stand.

But if you are waiting for the Triple Nickle retirement plan to pass Congress, don't hold your breath.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

The old adage that it takes more muscles to frown than to smile is probably false, according to Life's Little Mysteries. A true smile involves many muscles, including "eye muscles that only 1 percent or so of humans can consciously control," according to the site. So, frown away!


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